Lack of Employment Visas Shows Myth of High-Tech Labor Shortage

A sign that there is no shortage of high-tech workers may be seen in the INS data that shows the number of new employment-sponsored immigrants. If high-tech employers were experiencing a true shortage of qualified job applicants they would be seeking to retain their qualified workers. Among those workers would be H-1B visa workers.

The employer’s only option for retaining an H-1B worker would be to sponsor that worker for an immigrant visa. The visa categories that would be used to convert an H-1B worker to a legal permanent resident would be 2nd preference (E-26: professionals with advanced degrees) or 3rd preference (E-37: professionals without advanced degrees). As they would already be in the United States, they would be “adjustments” rather than “new arrivals.”

The INS data for adjustment of status in these categories to “green card” status do not show any increasing trend in employer sponsorship. During the period 1992-1998, employers sponsored between about 9,000 and 19,000 professionals for immigrant visas (E26 and E37 combined) each year (an average of 12,225 per year - see the chart). According to INS estimates, less than half of these employer-sponsored immigrants are likely to be in high-tech employment. In the last two years of data - 1997 and 1998 - the number of professionals sponsored for immigrant visas was lower than the seven-year average. The overall issuance of employer-sponsored visas during this period was less than the ceiling allowed by law, and it could, therefore, have increased if there had been greater demand for the visas. This data from the INS does not show any pattern of increased use by employers of immigrant visa sponsorship to retain the foreign professionals whom they sponsored for H-1B visas.

Although the H-1B program dates from 1992, workers entered the workforce prior to that date as H-1 visa recipients. The number of H-1B visa employees who’s visa eligibility is expiring each year is many times the number of employer-sponsored immigrants, and those who are not sponsored must leave the country.


The absence of any upward trend in immigrant visa sponsorship by employers contradicts the employers’ claim of a severe shortage.

The data are more consistent with a pattern of employers discarding H-1B workers at the end of the visa eligibility and perhaps replacing them with new H-1B workers. The employer who would pursue such a strategy in order to be able to hire a new foreign worker with more recent education in new technology and with no seniority, and therefore, lower salary requirements, could also be pursuing a similar strategy with regard to U.S. citizens and resident employees. By letting H-1B employees go at the end of their visa eligibility, the employer would be creating new vacancies and contributing to the perception of a worker shortage.

Update 11/00